Braided Streams

Reflections | Travels | Interests

On Traveling

I recently finished reading Nothing to Declare, a travel memoir by Mary Morris.  Morris details her time spent living and traveling in Mexico and Central America, and while this is a region I have only lightly explored (on short trips to Costa Rica and Panama), I quickly and easily identified with Morris's words and stories.  It was not so much about her outward journey in that region of the world as it was about her inward journey and her experience as a woman traveling alone:

Women who travel as I travel are dreamers.  Our lives seem to be lives of endless possibility.  Like readers of romances we think that anything can happen to us at any time.  We forget that this is not our real life—our life of domestic details, work pressures, attempts and failures at human relations.  We keep moving.  From anecdote to anecdote, from hope to hope.  Around the next bend something new will befall us.  Nostalgia has no place for the woman traveling alone.  Our motion is forward, whether by train or daydream.  Our sights are on the horizon, across strange terrain, vast desert, unfordable rivers, impenetrable ice peaks.

My mindset is entirely different when I'm traveling.  I forget about comfort and everyday luxuries.  While a twelve-hour bus ride from Luang Prubang to Vientiane in Laos, with uncomfortable seats, winding roads that bring on motion sickness, and no opportunity to sleep is dreadful in the moment, I remember it as a thrilling part of the overall experience, and many days I would rather be on that bus than sitting at my desk in my office.

And once I got the travel bug, I didn't want to stop.  Sure, it is nice to be home for a little while, to have my bed and my shower and my books and the people that I love nearby.  But I'm always thinking about my next adventure, when it will be, what I will learn, and how I can make it all happen.

I wanted to keep going forever, to never stop, that morning when the truck picked me up at five AM.  It was like a drug in me.  As a traveler I can achieve a kind of high, a somewhat altered state of consciousness.  I think it must be what athletes feel.  I am transported out of myself, into another dimension in time and space.  While the journey is on buses and across land, I begin another journey inside my head, a journey of memory and sensation, of past merging with present, of time growing insignificant.

I never feel as alive as I feel when I am traveling.  I never feel as stimulated—emotionally, intellectually.  I never feel as simultaneously small and insignificant as I feel capable of making a difference.  Even when I am traveling alone, my loneliness feels different.  It is welcome; it feels adventurous, confidence-building, and fulfilling.  It gives me the time to reflect, write, and think that I don't always take for myself on a daily basis.  It gives me questions and the desire to learn more about the world and its people and places.  Despite the exhaustion, illness, discomfort, homesickness, loneliness, and not-knowing, it makes me my best self.

Pulau Bangkaru, Sumatra, Indonesia / April 2011

Pulau Bangkaru, Sumatra, Indonesia / April 2011

...I longed for what came next.  Whatever the next stop, the next love, the next story might be.